Review day for the Work Capability Assessment
Posted Tuesday 23 November 2010
Today Professor Harrington is releasing the report from his Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). As many readers know, the WCA is the new test which determines what kind of employment benefit a claimant can receive. This is a key issue for Mind and we have had substantial involvement in this review. We are delighted that so many of the issues that we raised have been recognised in Professor Harrington’s recommendations for reforming the WCA.
Our Chief Executive, Paul Farmer, sat on the Scrutiny Panel and we submitted two documents to the review – one based on the thoughtful input of our supporters. Taken together, these meant we could ensure that Professor Harrington and his team were looking at the right areas and coming to fair conclusions, based on the submissions of charities, organisations and individuals.
The result of this extensive input is a report which identifies a whole raft of problems with the current WCA process and makes important recommendations for how these issues might be resolved:
- More empathetic and regular communication with applicants
- Personalised justifications from Atos assessors for their decisions
- Mental and cognitive experts in every assessment centre to spread knowledge and good practice
- More independence for the DWP staff who are supposed to make the final decision on eligibility for ESA
- Greater use of further medical evidence alongside the assessment
- More feedback from the Tribunals service to the DWP and Atos
The report also mentions work that Mind is undertaking with Mencap and the National Autistic Society to come up with proposed amendments to the criteria used for assessing the impact of mental health problems, autism and learning disabilities. This is a project that Professor Harrington recently asked us to work on and we are in the process of coming up with some short term proposals for improvement, although we are still committed to calling for fundamental changes to the assessment.
Although there are some areas where we think the report has not gone far enough – such as making the collection of additional medical evidence routine practice – we are generally pleased with the outcome of the Review. If these changes are fully implemented, and our proposed amendments to the assessment are adopted, then we believe the WCA process will be greatly improved for people with mental health problems.
From the levels of criticism of the current process in the report and the extent of the recommendations, it is clear that the WCA as it stands is deeply flawed. From April next year, people currently claiming other incapacity benefits (IB) will be transferred to the new Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) via the WCA. We believe that this should not take place until the recommendations from this review have been fully implemented and the impact has been evaluated: In short, not until the assessment is working fairly and effectively. We are also concerned that the recently announced one year time-limit on contributory-based ESA will undermine the system and should be reversed.
I would like to thank you all for your vital input that has helped produce this important report. Now that it’s in, we need to ensure its recommendations are implemented. Please contact your MP to tell them three things:
- That the Review needs to be fully implemented
- That the migration of IB claimants should not take place until the WCA is working fairly and effectively
- That those claiming ESA on a contributory basis should not have their claim time-limited
In the meantime, we’ll be sending out briefings and trying to get our message across in the media, but MPs need to hear from their own constituents how vital these changes are.
Tom Pollard, Mind Policy and Campaigns Officer
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